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May 14, 2008

Charter Communications to Track its Subscriber Web Habits

Charter Communications is planning on mining customer web surfing habits as a way to raise revenues.  The company will collect data against a range of product types and give that information to a company called NebuAd who will then send targeted advertising down the pipe to the customer.  Charter says no personal identification will be made.  Everything, including a marker of opting out, will be handled by cookies.  The announcement has brought out the usual cries of invasion of privacy and spying. 

I would hardly defend the practice, but at least Charter is telling its customers what it is doing.  The FCC's mantra these days is notifying the customer about web management practices, so there is at least that.  And yes, the opt-out feature is crude.  It just about begs customer acquiescence by forcing it on a per browser per computer basis rather than having a clean opt-in option.  Is this any different from visiting the Chicago Tribune sports page and seeing Google serve up ads relating to fantasy baseball on a completely different web page?  Perhaps I'm reading too much coincidence to what I look at on the web and the ads that show up later on.

Think of ads as something similar to wallpaper.  One customizes a computer by personalizing the desktop with pictures of kittens, or heavy metal bands, or Star Wars, or something.  Do the same thing with ads.  Visit a car site and get a spate of car ads.  Get bored and visit a travel site.  Ads are coming anyway, so manipulate what you get to see.  No one is forcing anyone to click on them.  If we're stuck with ads, we can at least have a little fun with the companies who send them to us.

Charter, by the way, just reported a net loss of $358 million in the last quarter.  That's better than last year when they lost $381 million.  The financial good news is that Charter stock broke $1 for 10 consecutive days placing them in compliance with NASDAQ listing requirements.  They had closed at less than that for 30 consecutive business days, placing their listing in jeopardy. 

The report on the ad tracking program is in the New York Times.


May 14, 2008 | Permalink


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